By HENRY MHARA
SPORTS and Recreation Commission (SRC) chairperson Gerald Mlotshwa has come under fire from Members of Parliament who are demanding the reinstatement of the suspended Zifa executive board to avert a Fifa ban.
SRC suspended the Felton Kamambo-led board in November last year over a litany of allegations, which they are refuting.
Fifa gave the sports regulatory authority a January 3 ultimatum to reinstate Kamambo or the country gets an indefinite suspension from international football, but that was ignored by Mlotshwa’s executive.
The Confederation of African Football (Caf) also tried its luck last week when it sat down Mlotshwa and Sports minister Kirsty Coventry in a Zoom meeting and asked them to overturn the Zifa suspension, but their call also fell on deaf ears.
Caf’s call, according to sources, was a last-ditch attempt by the continental mother body to solve the saga in an amicable way that would not attract a Fifa ban.
A Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Sports yesterday summoned Mlotshwa and his SRC board and the Sports ministry to appear before the committee and give oral evidence on the Zifa issue, but they did not turn up citing short notice.
The committee is chaired by Chivi North MP Mathias Tongofa and other committee members include Zifa vice-president Gift Banda, ex-Zifa vice-president Omega Sibanda, Oscar Gorerino, Tatenda Mavetera and Trevor Saruwaka.
Sports ministry permanent secretary Thokozile Chitepo attended the meeting, which, however, had to be adjourned to this morning due to the unavailability of the SRC officials.
Interestingly, it is Banda and Sibanda who appear to be fighting in Kamambo’s corner.
Both have a fractious relationship with the suspended Zifa board. Banda is Kamambo’s former deputy, but was suspended by his Zifa colleagues in January 2019 just a month into his term of office.
Sibanda, whose executive was toppled by Kamambo’s, said the allegations levelled against Zifa were frivolous and did not warrant a suspension.
“We need to be fair, because when you look at those charges, almost all of them do not warrant a suspension. Up and until they come here to tell us, maybe there is other information outside what we have seen, they will have to make us understand. We know there are two statutes that operate at cross purposes, i.e. the SRC Act and the so-called interference by the government from Fifa. We want to understand from the SRC that if they are implementing section 30 of their Act, do they exactly know the implications of that Act on an association like Zifa, which they don’t own, but only have an oversight role? Because Zifa is owned by Fifa, so we want clarity from them. Maybe as a committee, we can help them smoke a peace pipe and let them agree to do football. And besides, these guys are finishing their term of office in December. By right, elections should start happening in area zones as of March, so why should we bother people who might be going out?” Sibanda said.
The Zifa board members are being charged, among other things, of mismanaging and lack of accountability in the use of public funds, sending national teams outside of the country without COVID-19 clearances, failing to address gender imbalances relating to the treatment of female national teams compared to their male counterparts as well as sweeping sexual abuse allegations under the carpet.
Banda said the committee should act decisively in the matter to avoid Fifa sanctions.
“If we don’t put our foot down, we are going to be seen as one of the worst committees in the last five years. We need to realise what is on our shoulders, and the mandate given to us in order to bring sanity to all these prevailing things. These things were boiling, and now we are at a point that we now see all these things that are happening. We need to come up with resolutions that are going to help sport in this country, football in particular, because football is crying out for our help. Once we get suspended by Fifa, it’s going to take quite a very long time for us to come back and we would have not done justice to those people who are playing sports for survival. We need to do our work on this issue as firmly as possible without fear and favour,” Banda said.
The committee members also raised concern over Mlotshwa’s “contemptuous behaviour” after he snubbed yesterday’s meeting.
“He is now getting too big for his shoes,” fumed Gorerino. “We can’t be intimidated by him. We are Parliament, and we are free to do our job. Who is he that can willy-nilly snub Parliament? What’s so special about him? Is he the first one to chair the SRC? There are many people who chaired SRC before him, and they never behaved this way. This is a national issue and there is nothing special about him.”
Initially, it was said Mlotshwa was out of the country before Chitepo later suggested that he could be in Bulawayo.
“We now seem like we are in a kindergarten school, or maybe a kangaroo court. When we came here, the permanent secretary (Chitepo) got communication that he went outside the country and now we are hearing he is in Bulawayo. Truly speaking, people should really take this Parliament business seriously. We want Mlotshwa to attend, he has never been here. He always gives excuses and we have to put a stop to all that,” Mavetera said.
Mlotshwa told NewsDay Sport he could not attend the meeting because the invitation “was at woefully short notice”.
“Correspondence dated Friday February 18, 2022 was delivered to SRC at 1605 hours inviting the SRC chairman to appear before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation after the public holiday on Tuesday February 22, 2022,” SRC said in a statement.
“The invitation, not constituting a summons from Parliament, was at woefully short notice. The Clerk of Parliament (Kennedy Chokuda) has acknowledged that the invite should not have been sent at such short notice. He received and accepted the chairman’s apologies. He is out of Harare for the better part of the week, having left town on the morning of Friday February 18. He has been in communication with the Clerk of Parliament over the matter for a mutually agreed date when the SRC board is likely to appear before the committee. The SRC has already, nonetheless, given its written submissions to the committee in lieu of, and anticipation of, its appearance. Care must be taken by all concerned not to appear to be interfering or undermining those processes underway or pending before our courts and other investigatory authorities”.
The SRC said some of the issues could not be discussed since they were before the courts.
“Parliamentary Committee must not be seen to be trying to encroach on the doctrine of separation of powers by conducting inquiries on matters that are already before our courts or, indeed, be seen to be interfering with matters under active police investigation,” the sport regulator said.
The parliamentarians are not happy with the SRC excuse, though.
“Parliament takes precedence over any other business. The moment when someone does not come to Parliament when summoned, there are issues to be done and one of them is contempt.”
Saruwaka concurred: “This is an important matter which needs immediate attention. We can’t be begging him to check his itinerary and diary to see when it’s convenient for him. It’s for us to set a date. We can’t wait for the two weeks’ notice period. This issue must be sorted as early as possible because it’s of national interest.”
Chitepo revealed that the impasse between SRC and Zifa was also worrying President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“It’s a serious national issue and even the President is concerned. It’s a serious matter even in Cabinet, I can share with you here, you just touch this issue, you are touching a bombshell,” she said.